The Europe’s Rail Flagship Project 5 TRANS4M-R developed the first Europe-wide agreed target operational procedures for Full Digital Freight Train operation. On 1 August, the FP5 TRANS4M-R team came together at Knorr-Bremse premises to learn about the now available operational procedures, discuss their implications and look ahead to the upcoming discussions. The workshop was also a place to recognise what has been achieved and to celebrate this important milestone.
The benefits of the introduction of the digital automated coupler (DAC) directly depend on the processes it can automate. With the first edition of the operational procedures, a common basis for development is now available. This common understanding of the underlying procedures assures that the products developed will work the same across Europe. The latter point is very crucial for rail freight, since the new assets will be used by different staff and different companies in various countries with different local regulations. The harmonised processes are the basis for making this possible.
In FP5 TRANS4M-R, the alignment on planned future operations was the first step of the development process. It regularly happens that errors in the intended target result arise in the verification and validation (V&V) phase, very late in the process. This leads to delays and additional costs. Since FP5 TRANS4M-R has now agreed on the common target results first, already with the participation of the industry partners, the project counteracts such a situation right at the beginning.
There is a reason why similar tasks have not been successful in the past. Alignment within a single company is already very complicated and time-consuming. Now the challenge was to do it on a European level from the very beginning.
A big challenge is one that is common to large projects. You first have to find capable and motivated experts who will actually do the work. Here, FP5 TRANS4M-R was fortunate to have a core development group with a real team spirit that saw working on the issues not just as another task, but as a personal goal.
The early development phase of the project was another challenge. Not everything had been decided yet, so from time to time it was very difficult to describe something that could come one way or the other.
The third big challenge was to involve the multiple stakeholders. Discussing, presenting, and agreeing was difficult and very time consuming. While the rail operators had to make sure that the processes made sense for their operations, the industry partners had to check every detail for feasibility for the future products. But here, too, the alignment was successful.
Interoperability is one of the most important goals. Without interoperability, a DAC system will not be successful and will not benefit the freight sector. So, when designing the procedures, this had to be considered and regularly reviewed. Since the operational procedures are described in a generic way, by definition no details of a specific implementation are specified, boundaries are defined to ensure that the DAC system works seamlessly everywhere in Europe.
Communication was, besides designing the very processes, the biggest task for the core development team. They have built a very time-consuming and extensive methodology on how to include various parts of the freight sector. In collaboration with the European DAC Delivery Programme and the Technical Innovation Circle for Rail Freight Transport, and with the rail associations, a broader public was contacted at a very early stage.
The Operational Procedures will be continuously expanded, enriched, and improved until a solid and stable version is available at the end of FP5 TRANS4M-R. Currently, a semi-annual update is planned. The first update will be a Christmas edition in 2023. The Operational Procedures will soon be made available on the FP5 website. Stay tuned!